Saturday, October 16, 2021

Birdtober Day Sixteen: Artist's Choice


Today I decided to write about the Vervain Hummingbird, an island endemic. There are two subspecies, one on Jamaica and one on Hispaniola. These are the second smallest birds in the world, only surpassed in smallness by the Bee Hummingbird from Cuba. Vervains are noisy, and they like to sit on the highest point in the area, looking around. I think it makes them feel Large and In Charge. 

Photo Source:

I thought I knew all about the Vervain already, but just a little bit of research revealed many more interesting facts. For example, I didn't know that this miniature bird (6 to 7 centimeters long) attacks much larger species; Vervains have been observed attacking Mangrove Cuckoos, Northern Mockingbirds, and even American Kestrels! I really think these guys have no idea how little they are. A male will defend a territory of 20 by 20 meters. I even learned why I've never once seen a Vervain at my hummingbird feeders; the flowers they typically feed from are much smaller than the ones the feeders imitate. (I'll put a list of my sources further down in the post.) 

As part of the Caribbean Endemic Bird Festival put on by BirdsCaribbean earlier this year, there was an Endemic Bird of the Day. On the day when the Vervain Hummingbird was featured, I read a description of its sound as being "like tiny sword fights." I can't find that page any more, but fortunately I wrote down that perfect phrase, so I had it to use in my poem. (Sometimes I think the best part of birding is the writing. Scientists work as hard as poets to use just the right words!)

The form is the 4x4, which I learned about from my Poetry Friday friend Denise Krebs. (You can read about the rules here.) 

Vervain Hummingbird


Tiny monarch
sits in splendor
sings out fiercely
like small sword fights.

Fearless fighter,
Tiny monarch
shrinks from nothing,
needs nobody.

He’d just as soon
leave out “tiny,”
Tiny monarch
feels enormous

As he rules his
bow down to the
Tiny monarch.


©Ruth Bowen Hersey

Sources: Wikipedia, Beauty of Birds, and BirdsCaribbean.


Here are some pictures I took with my phone of a Vervain on her nest, which is a little bigger than a thimble. The pictures aren't the same quality as the ones from eBird, but I was pretty happy to get this close without annoying her. She had built her nest right above where we were meeting for our outdoor church service because of Covid. It was so fun to watch her go back and forth to her nest as we had our meeting. I never failed to take my binoculars to church during that time! 


See her nest, right in the middle of the photo?

This photo is a blown-up version of the next one, so you can see the bird's head.
And there she is in her nest! I didn't want to get any closer, but it sure looks to me as though there are babies in there. They are born naked and blind, not looking at all like lovely little birds, but more like teeny rodents. (Sorry, mama bird. I don't mean to insult your babies.)

1 comment:

Denise Krebs said...

Ruth, thank you so much for sharing this gem of a poem. The 4x4 form is small, like the Vervain Hummingbird. Tiny monarch is a perfect refrain, and I love how you developed the idea throughout. Thanks for sharing the pictures too. What a treat to get to see these during your outdoor church service. Wow!